I still remember finding out about Arsenal for the very first time. Growing up in the U.S. in the late 1970s and early ‘80s meant that I lived in a
soccer, football wasteland. Come to think of it, the only sports that really attracted anyone’s attention were baseball and American “football.” I had been playing the real kind for a few years, but at that point, it felt like a hobby more than a sport. We had no professional league to speak of, and we had no knowledge of or access to international football.
I only knew Pelé, for example, as a guy who must have been pretty good at one point because he played in the North American Soccer League, which went defunct in 1984. I only heard about Maradona’s “hand of God” in a story buried in our newspaper’s sports section days later. Like I said, I lived in a football wasteland.
At any rate, it was somewhere around 1981-82, and we had just gotten cable . To that point in my admittedly young life, I had subsisted on the thin gruel known as Duran Duran, not yet knowing that actual music existed. I would stay up into the wee hours to watch MTV and scroll through whatever else was available. During one of these late night fests, I was scrolling through channels in a daze when I stumbled across actual football. The idea that professional football existed blew my mind, and the fact that it was on TV blew me away even further. At any rate, the picture was pretty grainy, and I could barely make out the players, nor could I understand the broadcasters very well due to their accents.
Still, I awoke from my stupor.When the table flashed on-screen, I snapped to full attention. Amid a sea of unfamiliar or downright confusing names, at least to these Yankee ears, standing out in that hodgepodge of cities and -hams and -wiches and and -tons, was a name seemed to shine forth like a beacon: Arsenal. Even at my tender age, I knew the definition of the word, and it floored me to learn that a club could have any other name besides the city in which it play its home games. What a perfect, perfect name for a team. I was hooked. Further helping matters was that they were not in first place, appealing to my early preference for underdogs. Had I known then that Arsenal is hardly some pluckly little underdog, thinks might have turned out differently, and I might have ended up rooting for Sheffield Wednesday or something. There but for the grace of God…
When the highlights came back on, I was drawn in more deeply in the Gunners’ embrace through the uniforms, that pitch-perfect shade of vivid red and high-contrast white not only just works for my vision (I have mild red-green color blindness), it’s also bold and stylish. Put it all together, and the romance flowered and has bloomed ever since. Each night, still too young to realize that the First Division was more of a weekly thing, not a daily one, I’d turn to ESPN hoping to see more Arsenal action. I figured it out after a week or two when I finally saw that highlights only came out on the weekends, and in a five-minute installment at the end of the broadcast. Think of that—I subsisted for years on little more than a minute or two of Arsenal-specific news a week. I could get no names, no statistics, no information of any kind about Arsenal’s players, not to mention anyone else, except whom Arsenal played, how they did, and where they stood.
Ever since then, I have followed this club through thick and thin, surviving on a meager trickle of ESPN highlights and something called microfiche in the days before the internet and the growing popularity of football in America prompted newspapers, magazines, television and, finally, the internet, finally saw fit to cover European soccer. I’m sad to say, therefore, that I missed almost all of the drama and glory of 1989 or the Invincibles, except in those little bits and chunks filtered through a flimsy coverage that didn’t do the team’s style or achievements justice. Now, instead of hoping to get to ESPN in time to catch a 30-second rundown of the best Prem League games, as I did in the 1980s and early 1990s, I can actually watch complete matches. The difference has been not unlike going from flirting with someone through text messages to actually embracing and kissing. I haven’t reached that point yet, but I hope to some day soon make it to the Emirates to see a game. I love history and roots and origins, so it breaks my heart that I’ll never get a chance to see one at Highbury.
In one bizarre twist, the father of one of my good friends got transferred to London in the summer of 1983. Our host was a Chelsea fan and the family were staying not far from Stamford Bridge. Had it not been June, and had Chelsea not been absolute rubbish (mired in the Second Division for several years), I might have ended up…a Chelsea fan [shudder]. Might I have ended up a unctuous, obnoxious, superficial twat who’s sated himself at the trough of Abramovichian success? Might I have ended up a mourinista who derived juvenile joy at bettering Wenger’s squads? Perhaps.
However, I would never trade what I’ve had and will continue to have for what they have. Am I crazy? Yeah, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. The only brushes with glory I’ve come close to experience have been those three FA Cups we won towards the end of Arsène’s tenure. The 2015-2016 season was agonising; I really and truly thought we would win the league. The 2022-23 was heart-breaking, but by this point, I’d learned enough about the rhythms of the season to remain sanguine at the same time. Some would call me naive due to that sanguinary attitude, but what can I say? It seems that supporting this club and being a Gooner (if I have earned the right to call myself one) might just be in my blood.
It’s the silly season. It’s exhausting to cover the ins and outs of whom we’re interested in, who’s interested in us, and how close or how far we are to agreeing on personal terms & fees. I hope this little vignette gave you something else to think about. If you have a story about how you came to support this club, please let me know. You could share a quick snapshot in the comments-section below or, if you’re interested in my publishing your story, email me at email@example.com.